Preparing for the IELTS Speaking test by learning useful phrases and linking words is usually the first step most English learners take. Learning phrases and using them appropriately is key to a better performance and a vital part of learning a language. However, you should not memorise scripted answers, instead, you should learn and practice functional language to help you talk about a variety of common topics.

In this post, we’ll take a look at phrases that you can use when answering typical questions in the IELTS Speaking test.

What is functional language?

As we mentioned in our blog on using discourse markers in the Speaking test, functional language refers to words and phrases that we use to express a language function. For example, if you want to express sadness, you could use the adverb 'unfortunately' to begin your sentence, similarly, if you wanted to express your opinion, you could use the phrase ' I personally feel that...' to show that you are going to give your opinion.

Functional language helps to communicate and organise your thoughts and ideas on a topic you are discussing as well as communicating how you feel about a particular topic. This helps to produce a more fluent, coherent and therefore more natural performance in the IELTS Speaking test.

Talking about personal experiences

In Part 1 of the Speaking test, you will have the chance to talk about yourself, where you live, what you do and a range of familiar topics. In addition, in Part 2 of the Speaking test you will be asked to talk for 1 to 2 minutes on a topic that will also be based on your personal experiences. Although you probably won’t find Part 1 questions difficult to answer, it is important that you vary your language when introducing personal experiences. Here are some examples of phrases you can use:

  • I once…

  • I remember when…

  • Back when I was…

  • I don’t remember exactly when, but…

  • (Just) the other day…

  • In my childhood...

Giving your opinion

Throughout the IELTS Speaking test, you are expected to use a range of phrases when giving your personal opinion on a subject. The following options can help you to avoid the overused phrase ‘ I think ’ and to show the examiner flexibility when expressing personal opinions:

  • I believe…

  • In my opinion…

  • It seems to me that…

  • From my perspective…

  • As I see it…

There might be times when you feel very strongly about a specific topic. In such cases, you can use phrases such as the following:

  • I’m convinced that…

  • I’m certain that…

  • I’m sure that…

  • I know for a fact that…

  • There’s no way that…

Speculating and talking about the future

In Parts 2 and 3 of the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner might ask you to talk about the future and express possibilities. Speculating (talking about something you’re not certain about), is a technique that you can also use when you have no experience or no views on a topic. Let’s look at some of the phrases you can use to speculate and talk about the future:

  • I’d say…

  • I guess…

  • Perhaps / Maybe…

  • It’s possible…

  • I would imagine that…

  • Well, if I think about...

  • It might/may...

Agreeing and disagreeing

In Part 3 of the Speaking test, you’ll be encouraged to discuss the topic from Part 2 more fully. This is where you might be asked to agree or disagree on a statement. Take this opportunity to demonstrate variety and control of language within a two-way discussion. For this, you can use phrases such as the following:

Agreeing

  • Yes, absolutely.

  • Absolutely, I wholeheartedly agree with that.

  • You’re absolutely right.

  • No doubt about it.

  • You have a point there.

  • Exactly.

Disagreeing

  • I’m afraid I disagree.

  • That’s not always the case.

  • That’s not always true.

  • I’m not so sure about that.

  • I don’t think so.

Agree and disagree

  • Well, I can see both sides.

  • I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with this.

  • Both sides have advantages, but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Making comparisons and contrasting

You will also be asked to compare people, experiences, places or things throughout the IELTS Speaking test. To do this successfully, you need to know how to use comparative structures appropriately (e.g. taller than, more important than, better than). You can also go one step further by using adverbs, which will allow you to be more accurate in your descriptions (e.g. a bit further than, significantly higher than, far more interesting than). Look at the following expressions that you can use to make comparisons and contrast:

Explaining small differences or no difference

  • as + adjective + as

    ‘Studying Engineering is not as difficult as I thought it would be.’

  • same + noun + as

    ‘We bought an apartment in the city for the same price as our previous house.’

  • similar to

    ‘I’m very similar to my best friend in many aspects.’

  • much the same

    ‘All language schools in the area are much the same.’

Explaining big differences

  • no comparison

    ‘There’s no comparison. Online shopping is far more convenient than in-store shopping.’

Contrasting

  • compared to

    ‘Dogs are so much friendlier compared to cats.’

  • in contrast to

    ‘Living in the city has many advantages in contrast to living in the countryside.’

Asking the examiner for clarification

Finally, let’s look at some phrases and questions you can use if you don’t understand a question in the Speaking test. In a face-to-face Speaking test, the examiner is there to help you perform at your best, so if you don't understand a word, or a question make sure to ask the examiner. Use the following phrases:

  • Could you repeat that, please?

  • Could you say that again?

  • Sorry, I didn’t catch that.

  • Sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

In Part 3 of the Speaking test, you can also ask the examiner to ask the question again using different words so that the question is clear to you:

  • Could you rephrase that, please?

  • Could you explain the question, please?

  • Would you mind explaining what you mean by?

By using functional language correctly you will be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas much more clearly to the examiner, resulting in a better performance on test day. By adding some of these phrases to your answers, you are sure to show your full range of vocabulary, helping you to get the score you deserve!